Friday, April 16, 2010

'Death was not an option'

“The doctors said I had four months to live unless I got myself a new lung. That’s when I decided that death was not an option.”
— The late Craig Dobbin.
It seems our health-care system is always under the microscope.

Or knife.

With no appreciable results.

The complaints are endless.

From the Cameron Inquiry into faulty breast cancer tests to the latest report this week that a doctor shortage in Newfoundland and Labrador is harming patient care, the news is always negative.

Is there anything good for what ails us?

Of course there is.


It seems to have worked for Danny Williams.

The premier got top-drawer medical treatment when he went to the U.S. for heart surgery, although he was crucified for it.

The media on both sides of the border screamed Tory blue murder over the high-profile case of medical tourism, using it as evidence that the Canadian system is second-rate and two-tiered.

But the cost of Williams’ heart surgery likely pales in comparison to the millions of dollars the late Craig Dobbin spent to extend his life.

The 2008 book, One Hell of a Ride, How Craig Dobbin Built the World’s Largest Helicopter Company, explains how Dobbin spared no expense when his life was threatened.

I picked up a copy at the Price Club in St. John's last week and found the story of his health-care experience fascinating in relation to the debate over Danny's decision to have his heart operation carried out in the States.

In 1992 Dobbin began experiencing shortness of breath.

The physicians he consulted in St. John’s attributed the problem to Dobbin’s years of smoking.

But then Dobbin got a second opinion from doctors at the Lahey clinic near Boston, who diagnosed him with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a rare genetic disease that’s essentially a death sentence.

The news was shocking.

Only 10 families in Newfoundland and Labrador were identified as carriers of the gene causing IPF — including the family of Elaine Dobbin (Craig’s wife), and then Craig himself.

What were the odds?

Dobbin’s only hope of survival was a lung transplant.

By 1997 his condition was grave.

He was living on oxygen tanks and sheer determination.

As the book explains, the most critical element in the decision to seek a lung transplant is time.

Not only the time Dobbin had left to live, but the maximum time needed to reach the location of an available lung — about two hours.

For most people, as the book outlines, that involves registering at a hospital within a two-hour trip of their home in a car or ambulance, and waiting for an organ to become available there.

But then most people aren’t worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

It was decided that Dobbin would have the procedure completed in the U.S., where there was a larger potential pool of lungs for transplant.

They odds were still against him.

“An estimated 3,500 patients are awaiting a lung transplant on any given day in the U.S., yet only about 1,000 suitable lungs become available each year,” reads the book.

With the help of Craig’s niece — a Florida resident who worked with a firm retrieving organs for transplant — Elaine Dobbin plotted out 16 U.S. hospitals that had the largest number of transplant organs available and boasted the best record for successful transplants.

In most cases the donor’s families came from inner cities with high crime rates that caused a high incidence of sudden death.

Usually by gun.

Birmingham, Alabama was plotted as being within a two-hour flight of those 16 hospitals aboard Dobbin’s chartered Lear jet.

A house was rented for Dobbin and his wife in the spring of 1997, and a second house for the pilots of the Lear jet.

Of the 16 hospitals that were selected, 9 agreed to accept Dobbin as a potential transplant patient.

Each was paid a $1-million refundable deposit to ensure payment.

On June 24, 1997 a lung became available at a hospital in Philadelphia.

The Dobbins were in the air within 10 minutes and the eight-hour operation went without complications.

The donor of Dobbin’s lung was an inner-city youth who had died of a gunshot wound.

Dobbin received the donor’s left lung.

He lived nine years after the lung transplant.

Craig Dobbin died on Oct. 7, 2006.

Presumably from cancer.

1 comment:

Literateowl said...

Just watched interview with Elaine Dobbin on CTV and found her life story such a storybook. Her love of Newfoundloundland still still came through. Her wealthy husbands medical woes are not especially unique nor is seeking help abroad. We now have medical-tourism for goodness sake. Today it isn't about NFLD doctors or Canadian medical institutions or ethical practice. People take what they want, rich or poor. We are now so self indulgent and ego centric we think standards, rules and ethics are for OTHER people or imaginary debate; so I suppose, for the ultra rich, like the Dobbins, escaping NFLD to find a lung is pretty ordinary. Even for a Premier to travel south is no longer surprising.

Enjoyed your writing.